Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mentors for the taking

In my head, my last post started out lamenting the lack of female role models I have around me. As I’ve thought about that particular complaint, I’ve thought of two good female mentors that would love to chat with me if I just reached out to them. I’ve also been thinking a lot about and discussing my frustrations with various people, I’ve realized several things about both myself and my current situation.

Rather than actually having a committee meeting, I’ve been planning to do as Observant Academic suggested on my last post and meet individually with a committee member or two. This is difficult for me on several levels. The biggest barrier for me to overcome with regards to this is my anxiety. At least all the way back to high school I’ve experienced some anxiety, particularly relating to social situations. Starting when I began graduate school through my first three years or so, this social anxiety intensified to the point where sometimes even just the thought of meeting someone new could bring on a panic attack. Over the last two years this has been improving to the point where now I’m only a bit uncomfortable in those situations that would have previously been impossible for me to endure. The thing I still struggle with the most in this regard is initiating interactions with other people, particularly people I don’t see on a daily basis. Clearly this makes setting up meetings with committee members a bit of a struggle for me, but I’ve almost got myself talked into doing it. And frankly, just the thought that I’m able to do that now makes me feel empowered.

The second obstacle to me meeting with my committee members is my concerns about their relationships to Crazy Man. Each of my committee members has a unique (and good) relationship with Crazy Man. The reasons I want to meet with my committee members are about me and my work and my career, and are unrelated to Crazy Man (as much as that is possible). The Crazy and I have a pretty good relationship, and we mostly get along even when we don’t see eye to eye and despite the fact that we’re both very passive-aggressive. I know for the most part this is probably an unfounded concern, but I don’t want my committee members to judge Crazy Man (or me) or give him a hard time for not being able to provide all the mentoring I feel like I need.

The third thing that’s stressing me out about this is that I find my committee intimidating for a whole host of varied and crazy reasons. They scare me. This has improved over time, and I think that’s partly related to my anxiety and partly related to my maturation as a scientist.

Despite all this, I know I need to ask for the support that I want and need. It’s hard for me to ask for help, but I think it’s critically important to my development, so I’m going to do it. My committee members are good people, they know my science, they know my field and they know various related fields. They know information and people that I don’t know (yet). They all have students in their labs and really place a lot of importance on training students. I’d be stupid not to tap into that resource. Now I’ve just got to be brave enough to put myself out there just a teeny bit.

*Candid Engineer had a post this week about mentoring, and there are some excellent comments that have really spurred me on. Also, the WSJ blog The Juggle had a post on mentoring I found interesting.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ongoing frustrations

I’ve been feeling really frustrated for lots of reasons lately.

Both the department my lab is in and my graduate program naturally divide into sort of us and them based on our science. There are teeny bits of overlap, particularly in my program, but of late, the number of us has been dwindling for various reasons. This has made selecting committees for students in my lab increasingly difficult. I selected my committee (lo, these many years ago) shortly after my department/program lost >3 faculty members that I respected and who’s interests and approaches were complimentary with my project(s).

Nevertheless, I have a committee that I think suits me pretty well. However, thus far, my committee meetings have been useless. I was initially going to say they’ve been less than helpful, but that doesn’t really cover it. I was supposed to have a committee meeting in the fall. Somehow I managed to put it off, seemingly indefinitely. But right now I’m frustrated and want to talk science with somebody. Somebody besides my lab and Crazy Man. I’m running at least 4 different projects right now, three of which are stalled out at about 75% completion. There are multiple technical issues plaguing me right now, and Crazy Man has been less than helpful. He’s not giving me any feedback, nobody in the lab gives me any feedback during lab meeting or just chatting in the lab and I’m really at my wits’ end!

I think the most frustrating thing is that the technical issues I’m having are not troubleshoot-able problems. They’re voodoo issues. And I’m not dealing well with that anymore. I’m even more frustrated because I feel like I’m not getting any mentoring. I’ve been considering finally having my committee meeting because it might be helpful to get a little perspective. On the other hand, the pessimistic side of me thinks that will only serve to stress me out more without helping at all. What to do, what to do?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Play ball!

There’s this kid that went to my high school that was drafted pretty high by a major league baseball team. When he was drafted, there was a billboard congratulating him. Now that he’s a star on the farm team, the local paper is running a story on every single game he plays. Jimmy-watch, Game 24. Every single game. I have some mixed feelings about all of that, but it got me thinking.

I don’t think science/scientists receive sufficient coverage in the mainstream media. But can you imagine having basically every day of your work hashed and re-hashed like that? Even weekly that could be just brutal in science. What would your stats look like? What would the story about your day in and day out science look like?

Well, LJ has been trending downward this week. She’s 0 for 127 on PCR reactions, but that gel she poured was nice and level. The mouse colony is out of control, but whatever she’s doing gets those little buggers a-breeding! Although she’s faltered a bit lately on her western blots, her cell culture is top notch. We just know she’s going to make it to the bigs any day now.

It kind of creeps me out to even think about anybody being that interested in everything I do. On the other hand, maybe I should take a closer look at myself.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Things have been, well, things. It’s been pretty boring around these parts. All the usual stuff…Crazy Man is crazy, data generation is next to non-existent and I’m bouncing from one extreme to the other on my feelings about starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Some days I feel like I really have it together and projects are getting close to completion and I’m getting ready, excited even, to move on. Some days I feel like there’s absolutely no hope that I’ll ever publish anything again. Some days I’m terrified about moving on. Some days I’m just excited.

I think I’m more easily annoyed lately. I’m annoyed with the lab, I’m annoyed with Crazy Man, I’m annoyed with our collaborators, I’m annoyed with Food and Wine Magazine (seriously…you charged me $39.59 for my automatic renewal when the price for a new subscription is $19.99…we’ve been down this road before, you and I). I am supremely annoyed with this paper that’s in a baby Nature journal…more on that later.

On the other hand, there are two fluffy books I like coming out this week, and I’m excited about that. I made these cinnamon rolls (twice!) and they were amazing. It’s raining and I like rain. I went to the beach, which was lovely. I went to a meeting and chatted with people I didn’t know and tried new things and didn’t have a single panic attack. I got to hang out with my sis this weekend. I have new Lush stuff, and it’s all amazing (except the soap samples).

So yeah…meh. Life’s chugging along. I’m trying to find some spunk and some motivation, but I’ve been unsuccessful so far. I’ll keep looking though.